To stay cool, the James Webb Space Telescope deploys a radiator.

An animation showing the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope's Aft Deployed Instrument Radiator. (Image credit: NASA)
An animation showing the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope's Aft Deployed
 Instrument Radiator. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA's new high-tech, the low-temperature observatory, is getting closer to collecting some exciting data.

The James Webb Orbit Telescope was launched on Dec. 25 and has spent its time in space so far, completing a complex series of deployments to unfurl the telescope to its ultimate form. According to a NASA statement, the mission crew completed another stage in the process on Thursday (Jan. 6) when the telescope's Aft Deployable Instrument Radiator (ADIR) swung into position at around 8:48 a.m. EST (1348 GMT).

The ADIR is a four-foot-by-eight-foot-by-four-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot-by-eight-foot- According to NASA, the radiator is coated in honeycomb cells with an ultra-black surface that allows it to suck heat away from the oservatory equipment and deliver it into space.

According to NASA's JWST deployment timetable, the ADIR was folded into launch configuration by four locks, three of which opened soon after launch. The last latch opened, and the panel attained its final configuration during today's 15-minute operation.

The radiator is an essential piece of equipment that will enable the observatory to detect weak infrared signals. Infrared instruments must be very cold since infrared light is linked to heat. The observatory's large sunshield and distant orbit on the other side of the Earth from the sun, paired with Webb's radiator, will keep heat away from the delicate equipment.

The observatory's secondary mirror, held on a tripod-like framework in front of the golden primary mirror, was successfully installed the day before today's ADIR milestone.

The two side panes of that primary mirror will be unfolded next. The main mirror of the JWST comprises 18 distinct segments, but in its ultimate form, the mirror would be too big to fit in the rocket fairing that launched the observatory. As a result, when folded back, two three-segment side panels launched.


The crew plans to unfold and latch each side panel in one day, starting with the Port Primary Mirror Wing on Friday (Jan. 7) and finishing with the Starboard Primary Mirror Wing on Saturday (Jan. 8). Still, both operations may be delayed if needed.

NASA has announced that the second mirror wing deployment will be televised live from mission control and that the agency will host a news conference when the operation is completed.

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